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The M Dash

Live with purpose.

Have a Big Decision to Make? Consult this Shakespeare Passage.

April 24, 2014

Image: Thinkstock / Erin McCarthy

Yesterday, our old friend William Shakespeare would have been 450 years old. In an era when most content is rendered obsolete immediately after it’s published, it’s pretty impressive that he continues to shape the cultural conversation to the extent that he does.

Shakespeare’s wisdom manages to pop up everywhere, as is evidenced by Cher’s brilliant smack-down in Clueless:

The Hamlet quote referenced is actually from my all-time favorite Shakespeare passage. It’s Polonius’s farewell speech to his son, Laertes, who is preparing to set sail for France.

There’s a lot in here: advice on how to approach friendship, how to listen more than you speak, how to manage money, how to fight, how to dress with class, and most importantly, how to be true to your own nature.

Given how often the phrase “To thine own self be true” is trotted out, it has come to seem trite. But to me, it’s an important message, one that I return to whenever I have a big decision to make.

Every time I revisit it, I’m even more convinced that Polonius guy was really onto something.

Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!

The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee!

And these few precepts in thy memory

See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,

Nor any unproportioned thought his act.

Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,

Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;

But do not dull thy palm with entertainment

Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware

Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,

Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;

Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,

But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;

For the apparel oft proclaims the man,

And they in France of the best rank and station

Are of a most select and generous chief in that.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be;

For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!

– Tory Hoen

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